Elantris is Brandon Sanderson’s debut novel and is notable for being a fairly stand-alone work in a genre plagued by series. There are rumours that he plans to write the sequel but so far no plans have materialised. As the name suggests, the key plot of the novel is the city Elantris. Elantris used to home to people transformed into powerful demi-gods by a magic known as the Shaod. That magic is dead and the city is left rotting while those who would previously be like gods, are now powerless wrecks. The plot is kicked off when the princess Serene arrives in the new capital of Aleron, Kae to marry Prince Raoden and unite Aleron and her kingdom Teod. However unbeknownst to her, Raoden is transformed by the Shaod and carted off to Elantris.. Meanwhile the religious imperialists of Fjordell tighten their grip, and send the high priest Hrathen to try and convert the local populace.
The three principle point of view characters are Sarene, Raoden and Hrathen. Sarene mostly deals with the political plot of the novel and frequently clashes with Hrathen, whom is the novel’s primary antagonist. Meanwhile Raoden, the novel’s male hero, deals with the complexities of life amongst the people in the ruined Elantris and is eventually drawn into solving the mystery of Elantris’ fall from grace. Hrathen meanwhile serves to give us insight into the Fjordell, but he also has an interesting character arc of his own relating to his own personal faith.
As a character Sarene suffers from the flaws common with a lot of Brandon Sanderson’s other heroines. Put simply, she’s kind of boring. She’s very capable politically and that respect she is a strong character but she seems to pine after Raoden, even though she has never met him in person, which makes her feel like a love obsessed teenage girl not to dissimilar to Bella from Twilight. She’s not quite as helpless as Bella but she’s still kind of boring and at times her capability borders on mary sue territory. Raoden is a bit more interesting but is little more than your typical hero character, with the interest being more in the story rather than anything within his own character arc.
Surprisingly it is Hrathen who is the most interesting out the three. His point of view segments make it clear that, despite his role as an antagonist, he is a well meaning but misguided person. His faith is interesting, and his point of view segments how it defines him. Despite everything you can’t help but root for him, and given the later revelations and twist in the novels it is clear that Sanderson was aware of how sympathetic his character was.
The big twist in the novel is that of the real antagonist, and it relates very heavily to Hrathen’s personal story arc. The character Dilaf, who appears to be Hrathen’s young underling is actually much older than he looks. He turns out to have been the real power all along, and quickly asserts himself to become the real antagonist. In some ways, I liked the twist since it allowed Hrathen to become the good guy, which I was all for since he was such a great character and turning against Dilaf was the best ending to his character arc. As an antagonist Dilaf is everything you can ask for, ruthless and without sympathy. Yet I sometimes think that he may be too extreme an antagonist, with some of his cruelty coming across as a bit pointless in places.
The plot with Elantis itself was confusing and even after the end I still found myself struggling to understand how it worked. I feel as though the magic system was poorly explained, and as a whole I felt like the Elantris plot was just confusing. In contrast, Mistborn’s magic was far more detailed and when reading the trilogy it all seemed logical. By contrast, Elantris’ magic is more mysterious but the mystery is poorly handled and drags the plot down as a result.
Elantris’ political plot is the more interesting part of this novel, to the point where I felt like it is more interesting than the magical stuff. Like other Sanderson novels the protagonists are functional but as a whole suffer from being boring. If Hrathen were not a major point of view character I would not have enjoyed the novel half as much. As a whole, the novel feels weak. Brandon Sanderson clearly has yet to find his feet with this novel, and for better or worse it sets a trend for a few of his later novels.
IN A WORD: FLAWED